San Francisco County
Walter Blair, deceased.—Certain types of our American civilization as developed in California have been selected for the pages of this volume, the study of which should quicken the patriotism of a people proud not only of the country’s marvelous developments but also of the phenomenally large proportion of citizens the record of whose lives are worthy to be entered among the permanent archives of our national history,--none perhaps more worthy of recognition than the deceased gentleman whose name heads this biographical notice.
Walter Blair was one of Oakland’s progressive and representative citizens. He was born at Ryegate, Vermont, April 2, 1830, of Scotch parents, one of a family of twelve children, nine of whom are living. He grew up inured to the activities of a life upon a New England farm, and in 1852 came by water, rounding Cape Horn, to the new El Dorado of the West. During his first year in California he engaged in various pursuits in San Francisco, and in 1853 came to Oakland and purchased the land adjacent to this city, including the site of Piedmont and the property known as Blair’s ranch. He engaged in farming for a number of years and also conducted a dairy. He was successful in all his business ventures, while property advanced in value. He always had great faith in Oakland’s future prosperity, and as property advanced in value he sold a portion of his land and purchased inside property. At length he left the Piedmont homestead and moved into Oakland, where he built a residence and occupied it many years. He also built a large three-story hotel in 1876, at the corner of Fourteenth and Clay streets, known as the “Centennial,” which is still a portion of his estate and was his home at the time of his death. He was a man of genial and generous disposition, a fond father and devoted husband. In his intercourse with men he was a gentleman of the strictest integrity and honor; he was public spirited and had been identified with the development of the city of Oakland from its earliest history. He invested his means in enterprises of a public character. He was extensively interested in the building of street railroads, having been one of the builders and owners of the Broadway and Piedmont railroad, the Fourteenth street system, with the Market and Adeline street branches, and the Piedmont branch, which was his own individual enterprise. He also owned considerable real estate about the city, and at one time was a director of the Oakland Bank of Savings. Some years ago he purchased a portion of the Tompkins property, near the Laundry farm, which he still owned by his estate.
He was a man of intense activity, and gave his personal supervision to his various interests; and, possessing natural mechanical ingenuity, he invented numerous appliances in the running-gear of street cars, and devoted much time to their improvement. He kept abreast of the times and always took a lively interest in public affairs.
Politically he was stanch Republican and for many years a member of the City Central Committee and a liberal contributor to the campaign fund. He was at one time nominated as an independent candidate for the Assembly, and was frequently mentioned for the office of Mayor, but of late years had declined to enter public life.
To the appeal of charity he never turned a deaf ear, and many were his unostentatious deeds of benevolence. He was ever ready to assist his fellow man, and there are many who gratefully remember his generous assistance.
There are two sisters of the deceased residing in Oakland, namely: Mrs. J. Young, Mrs. O. I. Denison. William Blair, a brother, has recently deceased. Matthew Blair is a resident of San Francisco; also his brothers, James and George, reside in Solano county. Other members of his family reside in the East.
In 1862, at Napa City, Mr. Blair was united in marriage with Miss Phebe Harvey, who also was a native of Vermont, and they had two daughters,--Ethel and Mabel E.
After an active and useful life of fifty-seven years, although his death was sudden and unexpected, Mr. Blair passed to the higher life January 17, 1887, leaving a wife and two grown daughters to mourn his loss.
Transcribed by David Rugeroni.
Source: "The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 2, Page 232, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.
© 2005 David Rugeroni.